Synopses & Reviews
A sad young Finnish woman boards a train in Moscow, in the waning years of the Soviet Union. Bound for Mongolia, she’s trying to put as much space as possible between her and a broken relationship. Wanting to be alone, she chooses an empty compartment—No. 6.—but her solitude is soon shattered by the arrival of a fellow passenger: Vadim Nikolayevich Ivanov, a grizzled, opinionated, foul-mouthed former soldier. Vadim fills the compartment with his long and colorful stories, recounting in lurid detail his sexual conquests and violent fights.
There is a hint of menace in the air, but initially the woman is not so much scared of or shocked by him as she is repulsed. She stands up to him, throwing a boot at his head. But though Vadim may be crude, he isn’t cruel, and he shares with her the sausage and black bread and tea he’s brought for the journey, coaxing the girl out of her silent gloom. As their train cuts slowly across thousands of miles of a wintry Russia, where “everything is in motion, snow, water, air, trees, clouds, wind, cities, villages, people and thoughts,” a grudging kind of companionship grows between the two inhabitants of Compartment No. 6. When they finally arrive in Ulan Bator, a series of starlit and sinister encounters bring this incantatory story about a ruined but beautiful country to its powerful conclusion.
In Liksom’s impressionistic travelogue of a novel a young Finnish woman referred to only as “the girl” and a hard drinking middle aged Russian worker (“the man”) are unlikely companions on a long delirious railroad journey across Russia. The girl a graduate student of archeology dreams of going to Mongolia to study ancient petroglyphs despite the restrictions placed on her as a foreign national while the man is headed to work on a construction site. Both survivors of difficult childhoods these travelers are escaping complicated lives in Moscow: the girl has been conducting an unexpected and dangerous affair while the man is an abusive frequently repentant husband. As their train traverses Siberia on its way to the Mongolian city of Ulan Bator—passing through Omsk Tomsk Novosibirsk Irkutsk and Ulan Ude stopping or breaking down often along the way—the girl becomes a silent and at first unwilling but increasingly rapt audience to the man’s wild unreliable tales of Soviet life: full of sex violence and as much prejudice as wisdom. The sleeping compartment they share is thus both refuge and battlefield the girl resisting the man’s constant come ons and provocations. But Liksom’s interest is less in the personal quandaries of this sketchily rendered pair than in the Russian landscape—“the red dark of night the dismal frozen silence” and the character of “that strange country its subservient anarchistic obedient rebellious... patient fatalistic proud... loving tough people.” (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
"“Brilliant and politically charged....Compartment No. 6 flows at a balladic clip, a political commentary to be endured, savored, and never forgotten." Malibu Magazine
"[Compartment No. 6] seeks to bury Mother Russia and to praise her. It’s a delicate trick, but one that Finnish author Rosa Liksom pulls off with subtlety and skill....Liksom’s great achievement is that the portrait she paints is difficult for the reader to leave behind." Washington Independent Review of Books
"[Liksom's] rapturous descriptions, filled with minutely observed details, mix together the beautiful and the banal, the ugly and the sublime. They are shot through with a sense of loss, and yet always seem to contain a hopeful motion." The Rumpus
"Compartment No. 6 unfolds like a poem....A lingering sense of the landscape and enduring survival remains." Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
"Ms. Liksom conjures beauty from the ugliest of things. As she finds something wily and comical in the unforgettably horrible Ivanov, so she imbues the industrial wastelands with an inexplicable charm....What emerges is a twilight-hued elegy to the sickly last days of a wicked empire." Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Rosa Liksom was born in a village of eight houses in Lapland, Finland, where her parents were reindeer breeders and farmers. She spent her youth traveling Europe, living as a squatter and in communes. She paints, makes films, and writes in Helsinki.
Lola Rogers is a Finnish to English literary translator living in Seattle. She studied linguistics and Finnish language and literature at the University of Washington, followed by training as a translation intern at FILI Finnish Literature Exchange in Helsinki. She has translated seven novels to date and contributed translations of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry to a variety of journals and anthologies. Her published translations include True by Riikka Pulkkinen, which was an IMPAC Dublin Prize nominee and a Shelf Unbound best book of 2012, and the internationally acclaimed novel Purge, by Sofi Oksanen, chosen as a best book of 2010 by the California Literary Review, the Sunday Times, the L Magazine, and others. Lola is a founding member of the Finnish-English Literary Translation Cooperative.